“Sick” in the Jewish mind
In Ezekiel 34, God says to Israel —
(Eze 34:4 NET) You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled over them.
(Eze 34:16 NET) I will seek the lost and bring back the strays; I will bandage the injured and strengthen the sick, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them– with judgment!
What does the writer mean by “sick” and “injured”? What does “healing” consist of? Well, the sort of thing that results in destruction and judgment by God, that is, sin.Here are some parallels to consider —
(Isa 53:5 ESV) But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
Jesus’ wounds were literal wounds, of course, but what is the healing Isaiah speaks of? Well, forgiveness of sin. To be healed is to be forgiven.
(Psa 38:3-18 ESV) 3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. 4 For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. 5 My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness, 6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. 7 For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. 8 I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. … 18 I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.
David metaphorically speaks of personal sin as sickness and wounds.
Jeremiah writes while the armies of Nebuchadnezzar are marching on Judah —
(Jer 6:13-14 ESV) 13 “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. 14 They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
In context, “wounds” refers to the sinfulness of the people, especially their idolatry. The leaders of the people are condemned for pretending that their sin is light and easily forgiven — leading to God’s protection — when in fact they’d not truly repented and destruction was on its way. A lack of true repentance means no true healing.
Similar is —
(Jer 30:11-15 ESV) 11 For I am with you to save you, declares the LORD; I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished. 12 “For thus says the LORD: Your hurt is incurable, and your wound is grievous. 13 There is none to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you. 14 All your lovers have forgotten you; they care nothing for you; for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy, the punishment of a merciless foe, because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant. 15 Why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable. Because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant, I have done these things to you.
Again, “wounds” and “sickness” speak to sin that leads to God’s judgment. “Healing” is repentance and forgiveness.
There are many more Old Testament examples that make being sick, wounded, and the like a conventional metaphors for sin, especially sin that leads to God’s judgment.
In the New Testament we find —
(1Co 8:12 ESV) Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
To “wound the conscience” of a brother in Christ is to cause him to sin against his conscience (not merely to disagree with you or to be upset with you). “Wound” in the active voice is to cause to sin.
Therefore, we should take passages such as Ezekiel 34 and John 10, which speak of God and Jesus as Shepherds of Israel — and certainly important commentaries on the work of elders/shepherds/overseers of the church — in the same light.
One very important role of a shepherd from these passages is to help the flock flee sin. But as we’ve seen in earlier posts, this means that a goal is to help the flock become like Jesus. After all, that’s the “mark” that sin misses. It’s not merely about morality and attendance and Five Acts. Nor is this language about providing a counseling and comforting service. It’s about leading the members into personal transformation as a people of service, submission, sacrifice, and even suffering for the sake of Jesus.
Few elderships (and few preachers) preach this regularly. If we were to ask most church members what the goal of their walk with God is, they’d inevitably say “to go to heaven when I die.” And if you were to ask them what they must do to do to get there, most would say “avoid sin.” Very, very few would say “become just like Jesus.”
And, of course, avoiding sin is very important, but we define sin as avoidance of certain bad behaviors. We fail to see that sin is anything short of Christ-like-ness. After all, to “miss the mark” is to fail to live as images of God.